INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – “If you give a child the opportunity, it presents them with endless possibilities.” That’s the motto of the camp experience started by 4th grade IPS teacher Julie Beaty.
She started the camp back in 2005 as a chance to get her inner-city 4th graders out of the classroom and into a different environment.
“Many times, there’s so much negativity,” said Beaty. “Many times, our kids are just surviving and just trying to just to get to school today or just to make sure they have clean clothes, or make sure they have a warm meal at night.”
She started on a mission: raise enough money to take her group of students to camp with no cost to them or their families. She wrote letters to 10 different businesses in hopes to fundraise the money to take the students on the trip. She raised thousands of dollars, more than enough to take her group of 4th graders to camp and also have a solid foundation for the next group of students the year after.
For a lot of the kids, the camp is the first time they’ve been out of their neighborhood, and the experience is invaluable.
“I know it’s super important for kids that I serve because they lack just the resources that get them out of their neighborhood,” said Beaty. “So, getting out to camp or in the country is somewhat not possible due to financial restrictions. And just the memories and the experiences that are created there are just second to none.”
But it grew into something bigger than she could have imagined. It expanded to other teachers helping to raise money so their 4th graders could go to camp too. Then, it extended to other schools in the city. She said she knew this opportunity had to be given to other teachers.
Beaty was awarded the Indiana University Armstrong Educator Award for the 2014-2015 school year. She was awarded $1,000 to do whatever she wanted. That’s when she decided to create the nonprofit Camp Opp to help disadvantaged students throughout Indiana have the opportunity to go to camp.
“Just seeing a different lifestyle and giving them another outlet and another opportunity that they might not have otherwise,” she said.
Beaty usually takes her group to Flat Rock River YMCA Camp. There, the students will learn how to fish, canoe and even climb a 50-foot tower. But it’s not just fun—the kids are also learning. Beaty also incorporates school subjects, like math and science, into these activities
Out at camp, the students aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving. Many take risks and step out of their comfort zone.
Kaydance Combs is a 5th grader at Eleanor Skillen 34. He went on the camping trip with Beaty last year. When we asked him what he loved most about the camp, he said facing his fears.
“I was scared of heights when I first went there, but I overcame it by getting on the Alpine tower. And I made it to the second level I think,” said Combs. “And I was scared of snakes, but I just tried to hold it as long as I could. Now, I’m not scared of snakes or heights.”
Fifth grader Carlos Motley overcame his fears too.
“I always thought snakes would bite me with venom if I get near them because they have this sensitive type of touch to them,” said Motley. He said he got over his fear by, “Just thinking it’s just a plain ol’ snake.”
Motley also said he got over his fear of snapping turtles in the creek and encouraged others to not be afraid.
Beaty only takes 4th graders on the camping trip. When those students move on to the 5th grade, they always ask if they can come back on the trip again because the camp also helps to build a sense of family and community between all of them.
“Sometimes it’s just being together, it’s the simple things; just being with their classmates, just having that cabin time—those simple things,” Beaty said. “Sometimes those are the most impactful.”
Motley agrees. “It was fun being with our classmates for more than just like a couple of hours at school,” he said.
This May, Beaty plans on taking her class of 4th graders at School 34. Her classroom is set up in a camp theme with tents and pictures on the wall of previous "camp classes."
Le’Aysia Battle is excited to go and have this camp experience. She said she’s heard a lot of stories about all the activities and fun the students in years’ past have had.
“They got to go swimming and got to do like girly stuff and paint their nails,” said Battle. “And they got to prank the boys…”
That’s where Beaty had to step in. “Shh. What happens at camp, stays at camp Le’Aysia,” she laughed.
“And it was just fun hearing from them because I’m happy they had a great time too,” continued Battle.
Julie George is also in the newest "camp class." She’s a self-proclaimed girly-girl who doesn’t really like the mud, but even she’s excited for the outdoor experience.
“I’m excited about hanging out with my friends and having a sleepover with my friends,” said George.
Beaty says sometimes just taking students who may struggle in the classroom out of that environment can change their whole outlook. They not only survive on the trip, but they thrive. And when they get back into the classroom, they bring that experience back with them.
Beaty’s camp gives each group of 4th graders the opportunity to see and experience things they may have not been able to otherwise, presenting them with endless possibilities for not just school, but for life.
“Hopefully, I’m planting seeds for something even bigger,” said Beaty.
The next group of 4th graders will head to camp in May.
For more information on how you can help Camp Opp’s mission, click here.